Last year, UCSB’s Arts & Lectures successfully combined excellent filmmaking with global awareness by launching the first annual Human Rights Film Festival. This coming Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, May 21-23, the festival returns for round two, once again delivering documentaries and feature films that blend beauty and art with consciousness and consequence. Here’s a rundown.
God Grew Tired of Us (Mon., May 21, 7pm)
By now, thanks to extensive media coverage and a celebrity-backed advertising campaign, the humanitarian crisis in Sudan is well known. But while Darfur and janjaweed are buzzwords for the aware crowd, few realize the African country has been in a northern Arab versus southern African turmoil since 1983, with an entire generation of refugees facing the civil war’s aftermath. In this engaging, contemplative documentary by Christopher Dillon Quinn-coproduced by Brad Pitt and narrated by Nicole Kidman-we learn the tales of three men who immigrated to America after nearly a decade in a Kenyan refugee camp. They are some of the “Lost Boys,” a clan of 27,000 who escaped Sudan as children only to wind up in refugee limbo. The humor comes from the fish-out-of-water episodes-their first encounters with escalators, butter, Ritz crackers, toilets, and unfriendly Americans are most memorable-but the poignancy comes from seeing how these men learn to fit into a new world. The “boys” are tracked for three years, so we’re provided a thorough evaluation of the integration process and all the unexpected trappings that includes.
Required viewing for: those who still believe in the American dream.
Cautiva (Mon., May 21, 9pm)
In 1976, an oppressive, U.S.-backed military regime came to power in Argentina, and eliminated more than 20,000 critics through kidnapping, secret jails, and mass executions. This award-winning feature film, the title of which translates to “Captive,” tells the story of Cristina, a teenage girl in Buenos Aires who learns one day that the people who raised her are not her birth parents. She was adopted illegally, a judge tells her, and her true parents were two of “the disappeared.” As Cristina-played with stunned, stubborn realism by B¡rbara Lombardo-comes to grips with this information, including her birth name Sof-a, she embarks on her own journey of discovery to find out who her real parents were and why they were killed. Though fictional, the film is based on an ongoing situation in Argentina, where 74 such cases of sundered families have come to light.
Required viewing for: those who thought Argentina’s only historical blemish was hiding Nazis.
Grbavica (Tue., May 22, 7pm)
A major hit at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, this feature film is set in Sarajevo after the Balkan war ripped through Bosnian society. We’re presented with a true-to-life mother/daughter relationship that’s simultaneously loving and trying, especially because the rambunctious girl’s father is a shaheed, or a martyr in the mid -’90s battle against the genocidal Serbians. It’s a firsthand look at the societal effects of war on a population most Americans have forgotten about, a place where friends recognize each other from postmortem identification meetings and recall when people were more loving when the bombs were dropping. This is a visually stunning film, offering panoramic views of the Balkan region, but it’s also a compelling narrative, leading in no particular direction yet remaining fascinating throughout.
Required viewing for: those who love beautiful films but still can’t pronounce Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Sacco and Vanzetti (Tue., May 22, 9pm)
Before Michael Jackson and O.J. Simpson, the most scrutinized trial in American criminal history was the racist, politically charged murder case against Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian immigrant anarchists who were most likely in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this thoroughly researched and entertaining documentary-which includes commentary from the executed men’s relatives as well as author Howard Zinn-we get the whole story, from the Italian villages they left to the electric chair where they ended up. The case against the men dominated headlines in the 1920s, which-unbeknownst to many Americans-were an economically depressed era when Italians were treated much like undocumented Latinos are today, and anyone who leaned too far left was worthy of imprisonment. The men’s trial was a mockery of justice, and the means used to convict them reprehensible. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to make this case relevant in today’s PATRIOT Act world, where suspects are detained for no apparent reasons. And the filmmaker establishes that link compellingly, showing that Sacco and Vanzetti is not just one for the history books.
Required viewing for: those bound to repeat the past if they don’t learn from it.
The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (Wed., May 23, 7pm)
Perhaps the most important film about the Bush administration’s horribly executed war in Iraq, this exhaustive and distressing documentary uncovers the travesty of justice and failure of humanity that was the Abu Ghraib torture disaster. It interviews the soldiers responsible, the victims who survived, the commanders culpable, and a series of experts on the ramifications of Donald Rumsfeld’s decision to sidestep the Geneva Convention. It is shocking, even for staunch critics of the war. More than that, though, it’s an indictment of just how tragically America has botched Iraq and beyond, turning an entire people against our allegedly good intentions because the U.S. government never adequately planned a course of action. This is brilliant journalism about one of the saddest events in American history.
Required viewing for: those who still support the war in Iraq.
Enemies of Happiness (Wed., May 23, 9pm)
This documentary presents the harrowing yet uplifting tale of Malalai Joya, a female candidate for parliament in Afghanistan who openly criticizes the country’s notoriously powerful warlords. She’s not well-liked by those big men, but we see her community comes to her in times of distress and believes she is the face of their emerging democracy. Indeed, if more politicians everywhere were like Joya, we’d be living in a better world. This is the tale of her heart-fought campaign and of her attempt to bring up women to equal status in a society long dominated by repressive chauvinists.
Required viewing for: those losing faith in the prospect of democracy in the developing world.
UCSB Arts & Lectures presents the second annual Human Rights Film Festival on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, May 21-23, at Campbell Hall. See artsandlectures.ucsb.edu or call 893-3535.